Saturday, February 14, 2009

Romance Returns at Pan Historia

Romance returns to collaborative fiction site Pan Historia…

Everyone loves love so why did it ever leave? It's really a problem of gender expectations and preconceptions I think. Romance has the reputation of being a woman's thing, and yet, hey there blokes, you all know you love romance too. I have long suspected men of being the more romantic of the species, but I digress.

My original intention in removing Romance as a genre option was to tighten up the genres we have and make sure that each and every genre was active. It seemed, in the site design, that we were spreading ourselves too thin. We once had Comedy, Role Play, and World as genre options too. Last year I did a marketing survey of the members of Pan Historia and what I discovered was that many writers at Pan, male and female, loved Romance whether they were writing there or not. I also learned that many people come to Pan just to read. So it seems that a genre's popularity shouldn't be purely based on number of posts per day or number of novels populating the genre.

Having discovered that people often just like to read what is on offer at Pan has changed my thinking about the site design in a lot of ways. I used to be very fervent about cleaning up novels that had gone quiet, but now I think of them more like the books at the library that don't get checked quite as often. It doesn't mean it's time for them to go in the sale bin quite yet. I'm looking at ways to highlight the reading at Pan in different ways than it's been done so far. Right now it's all about what's the latest, hottest, and the newest, which is pretty much how it's done all over the net. My earlier blog posts sink under the weight of my newer ones until they're never read again. I'd like to find some way of bucking that system at Pan so that a novel that was written two years ago can still be a popular read now, and not just data languishing in the database.

With these thoughts in mind a genre like Romance doesn't need to meet posting quotas or worry about novels coming and going. Popularity shouldn't solely be judged on statistics. A good love story is timeless. It can be revisited again and again.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Writer versus Author

I have a concern that there is too much control being asserted over the writer as artist these days. It is true that, contrary to the image of the solo writer tapping away at his typewriter with an overdose of five o'clock shadow, writers need the assistance of an editorial eye, but do they need to be told what is art and what is not? I'm not referring to the fixing of grammar and spelling - or even some structural advice when it is sore needed, but it seems that more and more, and I'm not merely talking about online resources such as my very own blog, that the final say and the final cut comes from agents and then editors.

Of course the nascent and inexperienced writer seeks guidance from the more experienced, and that is correct. There is always a need for advice and mentoring in the arts, any art. What I'm seeing, however, is a molding of writers to one limited model, and a muscular leveraging of outside viewpoints on what is, ultimately, a personal art form. Let me give you an example in terms of painting.

As a painter I went to art school to learn my craft. I was guided by my instructors, other artists who were earning a living by teaching, and then finally at the end of my journey I was let loose in the studio. It was the goal of both me and my teachers that once I was finished with instruction that I should be alone in my studio, master of my media, and the artist. I wanted the critics and teachers out of my studio once I was ready to fledge. Imagine that the art agent and the critic entered my studio at this point and grabbed a paint brush correcting perceived errors on my canvas. Perhaps they even took scissors to the piece to reduce its dimension because smaller art was more easily accessible to the viewer than a large piece.

It would be shocking and outrageous and the finished piece would no longer be mine. Increasingly it seems that the writer is losing control of their art form. Novels are written to have cookie cutters applied to them by experts that seem to have more control than the writer, more authority. If you want to be a good writer and be published than submit your art to another's scrutiny and final judgment is the message I read all the time. It's the same whether it's over the internet or the real life experience of my friends who are published writers.

Of course if you follow my thoughts in this you might well find yourself unpublished and unread. Many a painter has works of art languishing in spare rooms and dusty studios because no one wants to buy the art. Most art shows do not result in sales or a living for the artist. I'm not sure that's a bad thing. I know that I would rather be a good artist than one that had compromised my art for what is currently considered saleable. When I think of the authors that are truly great very few of them conform to the well-worn maxims of today. Yesterday's authors were authoritative and their art had authority.

My proposal is that there comes a time when the writer is no longer an apprentice, but an author. As an author they should be the final arbitrator of what is excellent in their own work; even if they submit to a helpful critical eye the final decision is theirs. That day cannot be measured by some sort of marker like being published by a major publishing house because that privilege becomes an unlikely goal, but if a writer truly wishes to make a mark on the world then at some point they must, finally, become the author of their own creation.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Burning Down the House

Ever since I can remember I have cared about wild animals and the environment. I didn't get it from politics or 'bleeding heart' liberals. It was just fundamental to my nature. I don't even remember politics discussed in the home or any form of activism being embraced. My home influences were always about art and literature more than politics and government. The themes that inspired my childish mind are still with me in much of my writing today. I was reminded of this when wandering through my list of blogs I follow this morning and I was presented with this video from YouTube at Historical Boys:

Even as a child I hated the killing of wild animals for no reason. I imagined a world where humans got in trouble from their wanton destructive ways and animals were relieved from the bondage, abuse, and killing. I would construct vast apocalyptic end of the world scenarios where only a few caring humans were allowed to survive but animals could finally live in the world in peace. Other imaginative games involved me taking on the persona of a wild animal and living in their world, far away from any human beings. I belonged to the WWF when I was in 6th grade.

Looking at the stories that I write today at the collaborative fiction site Pan Historia I realize that I haven't changed all that much. It seems I still dream of the end of the world in my new collaborative novel The Bitter Sky or in my slightly more tongue in check zombie fiction FLESH. While The Bitter Sky is grim and dark, set in a very long nuclear winter, FLESH retains some of my childhood ire at humanity: none of the animals are affected by the zombie virus. My other story Turnskin, my werewolf horror collaboration, has a very strong environmental theme and streak that has been embraced by the other writers. I have been posting some of that story on my fiction blog if you are interested. In Turnskin there are good wolves and bad wolves, but all of them are united in their belief that humanity is destroying wildlife and its habitats. For a second there I thought I was done with my post-apocalyptic and environmental themes but then I remembered my other collaborative fiction, the modern fairy tale The Midnight People. In this concept I created a world in the future where the Fae have battled humanity to submission to take over because of our abuses of the environment.

It's interesting how my childhood games have continued into adulthood via the media of the internet and online community. Thankfully I have an outlet for my creative visions, as well as a way to learn about, help out, and connect with other people when it comes to trying to make some real life changes for the better. To me I really feel that the protection of our environment and the other beings that share this planet with us should be paramount in our minds right now and should be outside of politics. It shouldn't matter what you think about taxes, gun control, abortion, or how much government we have. Don't burn down the house we all live in. It's just simple common sense and survival. Otherwise dark visions like The Bitter Sky could well be a reality that would lose all the fun when translated into reality.

Burning up about the wolf slaughter? Head over here to help.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Passing Away

siteThe death of a long time member of my online community this week has, naturally enough, sparked some thoughts about the nature of intimacy on the internet. Over the ten plus (and that's a big plus, I just find it difficult to remember that far back) years I have been involved with community writing sites like the one I developed and those that preceded it there have been a few people that have passed away. In the case of some of our most stalwart friends we have been fortunate if the family remembers us, or if one of their online friends has bridged the gap between virtual and actual friendship. Other times people just disappear. With no word from the ether that is the great unknown of ceased communication there is no way to ever find out what happened to that person. They just vanish.

Of course people come and go all the time - that is the nature of what is essentially a hobby to most. For those of us that really love our communities and do not move away to a new neighborhood it would be more comforting to really understand and know where people go. I think many people, even people who frequent social media, forget the strange nature of the internet. Whether I know you as Wyatt at Pan Historia or by my Twitter moniker Panhistoria often all you have to go by is a screen name, a bit of personal history shared, and then poof one day I could be gone. All I have to do is not login again, wander off, embrace some other interest, and it's like I never existed.

It's a weird feeling because very often it means that online relationships do not have closure or even memorials, despite the copious feathery trails of chatter and correspondence, posts and images. Many people solve the issue by getting real and swapping names and phone numbers and taking the play off the stage and into the audience so to speak. But even for those of us that are very selective about making that transition, or who value the wonderful transformation from everyday to magical, we still value our online friendships just as strongly. It's important to know what happened to our friends, why they vanished from our circle, from our daily routine.

With that thought in mind I thank the family of Meritites/Mirjam Nebet for remembering her online family and letting us know so that we, like any community, can mourn her passing.